Team Shaolin is a different squad this year.
On the surface they have made many changes. Gone are stalwarts Adam Milburn and Collin Bodden – who now play for Silver Bullets – and Jerome Narcisse is away at school.
In their places are a plethora of new faces. Upfront sees big men Omari Corbin, who didn’t play in the men’s league last year, and Chad Leslie – who used to play for the now-defunct Lakers team. While the wing now sees Kenvall Bryan and Filipino star Christian Ferrer.
From there the team finds itself in new territory: fighting for dear life to grab a playoff spot.
Coming into this week Shaolin (which plays in division one of the Domino’s Pizza Men’s Basketball League) was percentage points ahead of George Town Sports Club and Silver Bullets for the fourth and final playoff spot. Newcomers team Colombia are currently in third.
With some four games left to play every loss is huge and every win even more important; which makes tonight a big night.
At 7:50pm Shaolin faces league frontrunners Esso Blazers at the Cayman Islands Basketball Association Court off Eastern Avenue in George Town.
Shaolin are very familiar with Esso. The two squads faced off in early April, with Esso winning a close one 87-84. Before that the squads met in last year’s playoffs with Shaolin sweeping aside the Blazers.
This year’s Esso has been on a tear. The side has just two losses on the season and are a solid second in the league. The squad has been steadied primarily by its star trio of Perry Levy, Samuel O’Garro and Rotando Thompson.
In spite of their many changes tonight should see a familiar trait for Shaolin: a blistering offense.
With Collin Anglin still shooting well and calling the shots plus a deep bench starring the likes of Luigi Moxam, Phillip Wilson and Sebastian Sache, offense is not an issue.
As the stats show the team’s offensive prowess is clearly intact. Coming into this week Shaolin has scored the most points in the league with 538.
On the other hand Esso can readily stand their ground on the defensive end with Sammy O’Garro being the league leader in steals with 31.
A key in the match will be what lessons the squads learned from their match earlier in the year.
In that game Esso saw a big rebounding edge (48-32) and prolific outside shooting (nine treys made compared to five for Shaolin). If the Blazers have range on their shots and can box out on the boards then they will be in good stead.
Shaolin saw great performances from Collin Anglin (33 points, three treys and seven steals) and Sebastian Sache (23 points and 13 rebounds). They will need Anglin to play well and someone else to step up to have a chance for the upset.
After tonight’s game the road doesn’t get any easier for Shaolin. The squad faces Bullets, George Town and Wolves to close out the season. Essentially Shaolin will have to win two of their last four games to ensure a playoff spot.
The other match on tonight should also be dramatic. Bullets and Colombia square off at 6:15pm in a game with major playoff implications. Look for Jonathan Corpus to loom large for Colombia.